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Drink your wine and tee off - or vice- versa - at De Zalze in the Western Cape

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa - Imagine a golf course set in the heart of Napa Valley, north of San Francisco. Or in the soggy heart of the famous French wine country.

Whoever first combined wine tasting and golf should be given some kind of award: the Ben Hogan/Dionysus Golden Goblet?

The DeZalze Golf Club is laid out within the De Zalze Winelands Golf Estate, here in the Western Cape province of South Africa. There is a golf hotel and on-site wine tasting. South Africa, for those of you who may not know, is one of the great wine-producing nations of the world - and its golf course offerings aren't far behind.

Remember, this is a country that scored a coup 300 years ago when it invited the wine-expert French Huguenots to ship over when they were being roundly persecuted in France. Voila - a three-century-old wine industry. It's sometimes a toss-up question for tourists: Do you tee off or schedule a tasting of some fine Chardonnay? Here in South Africa, the one does not necessarily preclude the other.

The name De Zalze is an homage to the early wine farmers from three farms that make up the estate, which still sports historical buildings dating back to 1838, including a manor house and precinct. The nearby Spier resort bought an interest in the property in 2000 and, together with Kleine Zalze, has remodeled the estate into a golf real estate venture that was launched three years ago. There is a working wine farm, as well as fairways surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and lavender fields, all sold as cash crops.

The course itself is a good one, though not great. It has too much traffic and construction noise for that, though it's good enough to be selected to host the 2006 World Amateur Team Championships, with teams from about 80 countries scheduled to compete.

The South Africa edition of Golf Digest ranked De Zalze 31st in the country, a 10-place jump from the last rankings. It's generally acknowledged as one of the top courses in the Western Cape.

It's a well-conditioned course, built for about $15 million, which bucks the trend toward the big, expensive courses being built there today, like the Jack Nicklaus/Ernie Els venture at Waterburg that's costing $60 million.

"It's all about money," said De Zalze director of golf Dave Hansen. "You can only build golf courses in South Africa these days as part of golf communities. Look at the top five or six golf courses in South Africa and you'll find huge investors. There is no expense spared."

Well-known South Africa architect Peter Matkovich designed the course, which opened in 2000. Matkovich, who also did Leopard Rock, Arabella and Mabalingwe, put together a good mix of holes in a parkland setting.

What sets it apart from other South Africa courses are its bent grass greens, a novelty in this country. "I love the greens here," American visitor Tony Buckhart said. "Of all the courses I've played here, this one has the best greens."

The Verdict

This is a good course, well worth playing, particularly if you're visiting the Western Cape. No. 13 is a beautiful hole, a short par-4 with three island tee boxes. It's risk/reward with water going right up to the green. No. 4 is a 399-yard, dogleg left par-4. Sand runs along most of the right side, short of the water.

The fourth hole is the toughest, a 409-yard par-4 with the fairway sloping left to right, to the rough and a bunker. But, if you stray too far left, a big tree blocks your view of the green.

The course is more than 7,000 yards from the back tees, making it tough for those wanting it, but its relatively flat terrain makes it a good course for women, though there are a few, short water carries. A new Cape-style thatched clubhouse opened in 2003.

Green fees are 275 South African rand for visitors and 185 rands for members: roughly $48 in U.S. currency. There is an additional cart charge.

Places to Stay

There are plenty of exclusive hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts and other types of lodging in South Africa. However, if you're near the Kruger National Park, try to book a room at one of Exeter's four lodges, all in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, which forms part of the Kruger park, for a serious African adventure.

As part of your lodging, you get two daily game drives where the "Big Five" can easily be spotted: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffaloes. Guided bush walks are also available with armed guides.

Trained guides and trackers take you through the bush, chattering to each other in Zulu over an intercom. They manage to get you so close to the predators you could reach out and touch them, if you were fool enough to try.

Places to Eat

South Africa has some world-class restaurants, but beware, the food - though delicious - is very rich. There is the Kleine Zalze Restaurant, "Terrior," the De Zalze clubhouse or the nearby Spier Estate.

For a real treat, try the Haute Cabriere Cellar Restaurant, on the Cabriere Estate in Franschhoek. This is where French Hugenots came 300 years ago to establish their wine vineyards, at the invitation of South Africa.

The restaurant is built into a hill overlooking the Franshhoek Valley - try to get there in late afternoon with the sun slanting down on the Drakenstein Mountains. In the back are the Pinot Noir vineyards where the grapes are grown; you can taste the wine in the restaurant's cellar, where the wine is maturing.

There are no starters or appetizers, just small and large portions of items like oysters, salmon trout or rack of lamb, together with the chefs' sparkling wine recommendations.

Fast Fact

Spier offers a vintage train that transports guests directly from Cape Town to the estate. Built in Britain, Spier bought it from the National Railways of Zimbabwe in the late 1990s.

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • DeZalze

    beejay wrote on: Apr 10, 2011

    Played in February 2011. Greens in an appalling state, plenty of 'bear with us while the greens are rubbish' notices, but still charging full green fees for nothing more than a poor municipal offering. Won't play there again.


  • amazing

    luzette wrote on: Apr 12, 2010

    I think de zalza is beautiful jst as it is.